08Jan 08/01. Friday after the Epiphany

1st Reading: 1 John 4:7-10

Love’s divine origin and its influence on our lives

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Gospel: Mark 6:34-44

Jesus feeds the hungry crowd with a few loaves and fishes

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages, and buy themselves something to eat.”

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.


Loaves and fishes

This memorable miracle-story is told with variations in all four Gospels. Clearly it made a deep impression not just on those who were there but on later generations too. The importance of this story in those early days is clear enough. In a peasant, agricultural society that was politically and economically oppressed by the occupying Romans, having enough food to eat when resources were scarce was a daily challenge almost beyond our understanding today. For later generations in more prosperous times, it encapsulates the life-enhancing core of Jesus’ work, and his call to people to share what they have with others.

Each of the Gospels tells of many people gathering from the surrounding countryside to listen to Jesus, so that at the end of a long day, five thousand people are in need of food and lodging. The disciples sensibly suggest that he should send the crowd away to fend for themselves. But he knows that the food ready to hand will be enough, even though they can only find five barley loaves and two fish–remember, they were not far from the lake of Galilee. He blesses this apparently meager meal and asks his followers to distribute it–and to their amazement everyone had enough to eat, so much so that the leftovers filled twelve baskets. Many today would want to receive a blessing of such abundance, when times are tough. Perhaps it can be achieved still, if the sharing message of Jesus gets into our hearts, and into our governance, as Pope Francis is calling for. The miracle of the loaves and fishes is a colourful background to the call made by Jesus and so well captured in today’s epistle, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.”

Doing what we can

On this occasion Jesus struggles to get his disciples to become giving people. They asked him to send the crowd away because the crowd were hungry. In response, Jesus told them, “Give them something to eat yourselves.” He was saying something like, “Take some responsibility for these needy people, don’t just wish them away.” He pushed them into doing something for the people, no matter how small. They eventually found five loaves and two fish, very small resources indeed. But with those few resources, they fed the crowd. Jesus was teaching his disciples and us that the willingness to do something, no matter how little, the readiness to give something, no matter how small, can bear rich fruit. The Lord can take our giving, even our little giving, and work powerfully through it. The gospel reading encourages us to be giving people, even when we seem to have little to give and the situation we are facing seems beyond us. [MH]

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